Mobility Plus Cloud: Be Where the Clients Are

By Jeff Goldman  |  Posted 03-15-2011

Making the Most of Cloud-Enabled Enterprise Mobility

In Summary

Who: IT leaders from PwC, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, EQT and Critical Systems

What: Discussing the business results they're experiencing at the intersection of mobility and the cloud

Why: To provide real-world examples that you can apply to your enterprise mobility and cloud strategies

Combining the power of cloud computing with the freedom and functionality of mobile devices can give enterprises access to a wide range of key benefits, including increased reliability, real-time updates, device-agnostic applications and more. And it's a fast-growing field: A Juniper Research report issued in January 2010 predicted that, by 2014, businesses and individual consumers will collectively spend nearly $9.5 billion worldwide on cloud-based mobile applications.

Bo Parker, managing director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at PwC, says devices of all kinds, including PCs and laptops, are becoming more cloud-centric. "Google's Chrome OS is sort of the [showpiece of this] trend, where there are no local apps any more," he says. "You're starting to see a real shift toward the cloud, in general, as the way that end devices deliver and support applications."

At the same time, Parker says, it's important to keep in mind that mobile devices are entering a new period of massive innovation. "We see mobile devices as having the potential to introduce incredible new opportunities for companies to change their productivity levels, to do new things and to differentiate themselves in ways that the personal computer [allowed them to do] many years ago," he says. (For more on this subject, read the article Mobility's Rise in the Enterprise.)

Cloud computing can make a significant difference for mobile users as their devices offer continually improving functionality. "The cloud throws a tremendous amount of computer horsepower at every little task you might do," Parker says. "The partnership between very powerful mobile devices and even-more-powerful cloud platforms creates the sort of opportunity that stretches the mind for application developers, and introduces new opportunities for applications that didn't even occur to people in the desktop PC world."

Mobility Plus Cloud: Be Where the Clients Are

Hakan Carlbom, CIO at the Swedish private equity group EQT, sees significant benefits in providing his company's clients with mobile cloud access. EQT has been working with information exchange provider IntraLinks for several years now.

"Their data room plays an important role in connecting us with our clients ... [who] can log into the Web portal to access documents," he says. "And we're now extending that to the iPad."

Providing access to key information on the iPad, Carlbom says, can help EQT target a very specific sector of the market. The device has generally been brought into the enterprise by CEOs and other high-ranking executives, who are potential customers for EQT.

"The iPad typically has seen a top-down implementation in companies," he says. "The people using an iPad are interesting from a strategic point of view."

Carlbom says it made sense from the beginning for his company to work with a cloud provider such as IntraLinks. It would be far more costly to internally build a solution comparable to the one IntraLinks offers, he says. What's more, the vendor boasts more than a million established users.

"The investor, [our] client, feels that he gets good service from logging into IntraLinks, so we are, in some sense, forced into this market because this is where they are," he says. "If you want to meet the clients, you have to be where the clients are."

Mobility Plus Cloud: The Need for 'Burstability'

Danamichele Brennen is CTO of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, which uses RightNow Technologies' cloud platform to link its call center with those of its partners, allowing users in different locations (and tax preparers in the field) to access the same knowledge base and the same call-management system. "This year, we contracted with a partner that has on-demand, at-home remote agents, and the RightNow system has enabled us to bring that partner in with no connectivity or processing challenges," she says.

Brennen says the freedom inherent in any cloud platform is particularly attractive for a company such as Jackson Hewitt. "Our planning has more flexibility,: she says. "We can burst to needing this much processing power or this many users through these applications at certain times of the year, [which is a plus] given that we do the majority of our business, obviously, between January 1 and April 15. ... Now we have that 'burstability,' because it's a cloud-based solution."

RightNow's solution, Brennen says, is also helpful in attracting and retaining talented employees. "One halo effect of doing cloud and mobile is the excitement that it generates inside your employee base," she says. "For technology people, there are not too many places they could go to be part of exciting, forward-thinking, innovative projects, so I would say that's critical."

Mobility Plus Cloud: Dynamic Monitoring

Jim Boudreaux, IT manager at the fire-alarm testing company Critical Systems, turned to's cloud computing platform to enable the company's inspectors to file their reports from the field via iPhones. "A lot of reports are pretty basic ... so we wanted to differentiate ourselves," he says. "We created a report that's more of an operational document. We have a graphic floor plan for each floor with all the devices plotted on it, and they're color-coded according to whether the device passed or failed."

Previously, the company had simply used Excel spreadsheets to track the data. The challenge in implementing that new format, Boudreaux says, lay in matching the inspector's Excel-based reports with a graphical floor plan. "We have 390 accounts, and every year we'd have to make a copy of the previous year's Excel files," he says. "So every year, I was inheriting 390 more Excel files."

Now, using the app, the inspectors access each client's floor plans on an iPhone, and all reports are updated in the cloud. "The inspectors will go out with the iPhone, they'll go through each device, they'll change a [data] field to 'pass' or 'fail,' and by updating that field, they're updating the data that's stored in Salesforce," Boudreaux says. "It's not as if they're making a change to an Excel file--they're changing it to that result for the [entire] report."

The point is that all changes are tracked automatically in real time. "I can be on my computer looking at that result list, click 'refresh,' and basically play Big Brother," Boudreaux says. "I can watch [inspectors] walk around the building and see all the devices changing. We're also eliminating the redundancy. I don't have to go back and look at their Excel file. The image is being generated dynamically based on the results that they're changing in the field."

Making adjustments to the app itself, Boudreaux says, is equally straightforward. "If a person in the field needs a new value in a drop-down, he can call me on the phone, I'll add it through the browser," he says. "He'll refresh his iPhone app, and that value will be there. He doesn't have to bring the device into the office, and I don't have to reinstall the application on the device. It's all done through the browser, and I don't have to worry about keeping all the devices in sync. They're all synced naturally."

Boudreaux says also offers a level of reliability that a company the size of Critical Systems wouldn't be able to match in-house. "Our server is a Windows PC in the warehouse," he says.

Mobility Plus Cloud: Empowering Employees

PwC's Parker adds that mobile cloud access can also help a company empower its employees to use whichever mobile device they think is most appropriate for their needs. "The best talent are creating their own personalized combination of device and cloud apps that enhance their performance -- not because central IT laid it out for them, but because [they took the initiative to do it] themselves," he says. "So, anticipate device diversity.

For enterprise apps, that means supporting access across a variety of devices. "The best practice is to try to make applications as [device-agnostic] as possible, which leads you in the Web-app direction," Parker says. "The great news is that there's [the] emerging standard of HTML5, which is going to make the vast majority of apps that you'd want to support from the enterprise capable of being developed in that device-agnostic frame."